Wis. nonprofit hospitals provide less charity care

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Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates AHCJ's social media efforts and edits and manages production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

David Wahlberg of the Wisconsin State Journal looked into the state’s nonprofit hospitals and found they “provided significantly less free health care and made more money than the national average in recent years.” Ninety-eight percent of Wisconsin’s hospitals are nonprofit, though the national average is closer to 59 percent, not including the 25 percent of hospitals that are run by the government and also tax-exempt.

Wahlberg focused on the budget surpluses and charity-care obligations of these nonprofit hospitals, reporting that the issues is “likely to take on more relevance this year in the state and the nation as unemployment soars and tax revenues plummet.”

Wahlberg reports: “The amounts of help provided by hospitals can vary greatly, according to an IRS survey of nonprofit hospitals released in 2007. Nearly half of the hospitals said they spent less than 3 percent of their budgets on charity care and bad debt; a fifth said they spent more than 10 percent of their budgets on those benefits.”

In part two of the series, Wahlberg looks at the question of whether a nonprofit hospital become too much like a business, focusing on St. Mary’s Hospital, which made a lot of money and gave relatively little charity care in recent years.

In part three, Wahlberg reports that some public officials are making nonprofit hospitals contribute more to their communities and that the troubled economy could expand this trend.

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